Monday, December 5

Doggone unintended consequences

My friend Alixe sent me a cute newspaper article a while ago about the proliferation of purse dogs in the Yaletown neighbourhood of Vancouver. It seems that strata rules limiting dogs to 20 pounds or less in Yaletown condos means the small dogs are favoured. But the economist in me started thinking: could these strata rules have an ugly downside? At the margin, could they incentivize condo-dwelling dog owners to underfeed their pets?

The strata policies can put dog owners in an awkward dilemma. Let's say I'm a Yaletown condo owner with a very cute Boston terrier puppy, which according to Wikipedia has a weight range of 10 to 25 pounds. After several months, it grows to its healthy weight of 25 pounds. If my fellow strata members don't like my dog, I've got three options: get my dog's weight under 20 pounds, give away my dog, or move. Which option is least drastic? Probably weight control.

It's not just stratas that put these pressures on dog owners. Airlines also put weight restrictions on pets: Fido and his kennel must be under 22 pounds to travel in the cabin with you on Air CanadaWestjet or Porter. Obviously, nobody is going to starve a huge dog to try to get it under a weight restriction, but at the margin, I suspect these policies could lead to people underfeeding their dogs to get them under a weight restriction (if you need any convincing about the incentives weight restrictions provide, just look at wrestlers).

So when the Canadian Medical Association says it wants to ban pets on planes because of the difficulties they can cause for passengers with allergies, there could be an unintended benefit: a healthier weight for our four-legged friend.